Our babies just don't stay babies for long. Changes in their growth and development calls for changes in their environment. As my little ones began to explore the world around them, I began to explore different ways to stimulate their learning and growing.
As they begin to toddle and move, alertness develops as well. Most toddlers are curious and desire safe avenues to explore and learn. In our home we sought to make safe areas of play for our children without completely removing the adult aspect. I did not want the "play room only" situation, but wanted our children's play to be part of our daily life.
Since my home is "lived in" and worked in, I placed different play areas in my home that seemed relevant to that location. For example, our kitchen had a kitchen play area..as I worked my children could play nearby safely, often mimicking what I was doing. The living room had different bins in the cabinet with various building items, games, and such.
I am a huge supporter of creative outlets, so an easel or art table was always nearby for paints, colors, chalk..messy good fun. Early on, my kids loved the art/hand craft place in our home..to this day, handwork is in every nook of our house.
I would like to share with you three key areas of education I focused on when my kids were moving on to "bigger steps".
1. Fostering healthy creativity.
Well chosen toys are not only helpful, they are important. Much of the toy industry today is simply drivel; cheap, overstimulating, and void of purpose. Stacking and building items are excellent for dexterity and manipulation. Patience if fostered when we must try and try again to stack them so they don't tumble! Scoops and funnels were a big hit for my kids. Whether set in water or sand, these were a discovery gold mine. I sometimes placed a tub of rice, beans, or packing peanuts inside for rainy day fun.
My house has always had an easel or art/craft table for messy, good fun. I am a huge fan of children's creative energy- I love to watch their juices flow! Starting with simple, non-toxic watercolors and their fingers or a sponge- huge pieces of craft or butcher paper- an open space for messes (and a craft smock or apron) just watch them entertain and learn what their hands can do.
As well as playing with them or creating with them, there must be time to step back and let them explore on their own. Many times, as mothers, we tend to over dictate what the child is doing- feeling if they do not color in the lines or paint realistically their work is invalid or worthless. Not so! Give them some space to stack, build, play and create on their own - and enjoy the process as well as the outcome.
2. Spark vocabulary skills.
During my children's early years, reading to them was a precious time. The routine I developed before their births continued as they became toddlers. While the Bible is the central book in our home, well chosen fictional books were welcomed as well; devotions at breakfast, stories at nap, the Bible at bedtime..and, of course, any time they requested a cuddle up and read moment.
In addition to books, simple pictures are excellent for sparking vocabulary. In the form of flash cards, photographs, or the pictures from a book, language is developed when we visually "tell a story". Where is the mouse in Goodnight Moon? Can you find the red ball? Pictures of family helped our children learn the names and faces of family members they did not see on a regular basis.
Of course, conversation- we must talk to our children at all ages. Yes, they need time for quiet discovery; they also need conversation, eye contact, vocal interacion. Say things as they do them- or colors of the blocks they are using...this stimulates conversation skills and vocabulary.
3. Nurture respectful behaviorr.
Here we go. These new skills and curiosities also bring some behaviours and attitudes that need our attention. A foundation will be taught here that will effect the future behaviours and respect our children possess. If I didn't want my seven year old throwing a temper tantrum, then I did not allow my toddler to throw one either. Each family will determine their way of training and discipline; we had to determine ours.
Set simple boundaries for your toddler- evaluate acceptable/unacceptable behaviours and what you intend to do in response to them. For example, in our home meals and snacks were eaten at the table- you had to sit down for a drink. (Personally, I do not condone kids running around with sippy cups- it's just not safe or healthy). If they were unwilling to sit down, they didn't get the meal, snack, drink until they did. Picking up after ourselves was another simple boundary- cleaning up our toys before moving on is easy and can be fun if we put our mind to it.
Self control is so important for our kids' future behaviours. Simple acts of staying in our seats until we are finished, not hitting or biting, as well as handling our emotions (tantrums/yelling) are part of learning self control. For us, separate until we calm down (kid in room or sitting nearby) was a starting place. This would eventually lead to our pattern - tell, warn, swat. (Yes, I spank appropriately) Tell the child the behaviour that needs to stop, warn of the consequences, place an appropriate swat in the appropriate place, with the appropriate mindset (not in anger or aggression). After a time show forgiveness, love and move on.
When you have a tough day, breathe- cry- call a friend, but don't give up! I completely dislike video games or any other form of electronic baby sitters, but on a bad day I would pile the floor with pillows and quilts and pop in a good movie. It was a de-stresser for all of us, a change from the norm. Sometimes, you just have to sit on the floor with laundry piled all around you, dishes in the sink, and a crying toddler on you lap and just cry it out! Yes, I've done it. Remember, bad days come but they also go.
Our educating starts early and never really ends. As our little ones grow our educating must change with them. Looking back, we were firm but we were also fun. Hikes and art, games and giggles were all a part of our home. Work balances with play and discipline with love. Our children are treasures at any age, and so much fun when we are taking bigger steps.